MORGANTOWN - When B.J. Finney was a high school senior at Andale High near Wichita, Kan., he dreamed of playing college football for ... Wait for it ...Ohio University."Oh, yeah,'' Finney said. "And it was all set, or so I thought.''Now before anyone gets the idea that somewhere in the heart of Kansas resides a deep pocket of Bobcat fans or maybe Frank Solich relatives, understand why it was that Finney's dream was to play across the Ohio River - from here, not from Wichita - in Athens, Ohio.
"It was the only place that would give me a scholarship,'' Finney recalled. "Or at least I thought they were going to give me one.''A couple of funny things happened along the way, however. Well, actually just one thing happened and Finney didn't find it too funny. Just as he was about to go to Ohio for his official visit, the school called and stopped him. They'd handed out a scholarship to another offensive lineman. Not only was it Finney's, it was the school's last.Well, come to think of it, another funny thing did happen. Finney, who couldn't beg for a Division I scholarship, even from Ohio U, wound up walking on at nearby Kansas State. Did OK there, too.OK? How about redshirting a year and then starting every game for the last 21/2 seasons? On Saturday, when Kansas State hosts West Virginia, Finney will be making his 33rd consecutive start. The 6-foot-3, 303-pound junior center is not just a starter, he's a captain for the second year and he's on the watch lists for the Rimington, Outland and Lombardi awards.
And he could have been at Ohio, toiling away in absurdity."There obviously was a divine power at work,'' Finney said. "There's no other way to explain it.''Finney's story, though, is about more than a walk-on getting a chance and succeeding.His father died nine years ago of a heart attack. His mother works two jobs in the Andale school system, including as a bus driver who used to drive her son's wrestling and football teams to away matches and games.He grew up a Kansas State fanatic almost, yet wasn't deemed good enough for a scholarship. That might have been OK if he and his mother could have afforded to pay his way as a walk-on, but they couldn't. They needed a scholarship in order to send him to college and so his options were pretty much limited to a wrestling grant to Division II Pittsburg State or the Ohio University offer, which was his only shot at Division I football.
That all fell through with the Ohio scholarship offer, so it was back to the drawing board. That's when Finney's mother made an offer. She would help him pay to start college at Kansas State.Finney was thrilled. He told her that within two years he would have that scholarship.
"My mom said, 'No, you've got one year. Make it happen,' '' Finney recalled. "So when I got here there was no time to waste. I had to work hard, get noticed and get that scholarship faster than what was projected.''What is projected is usually no less than two years, especially for an offensive lineman who needs a year just to begin getting his body right before he can even start proving himself."Coach [Bill] Snyder said when I came here that a lot of guys use their redshirt year to sort of just get used to the idea of playing college football and that they don't really take it very seriously or work very hard,'' Finney said. "I also figured that as a walk-on it would probably take me two years to get a scholarship, and that's even if I worked hard and didn't take things for granted like coach says some guys do.''Obviously Finney made it happen a lot faster. He had no choice."We paid for the first year so that we wouldn't go into debt, but that pretty much emptied my account and my mom's account,'' Finney said. "If I hadn't gotten it by December of the year we went to the Cotton Bowl, I would have had to transfer."He got it even sooner, pretty much one year after he arrived. And just so as not to disappoint those who had given it to him, he won a starting job in the first game he ever played. He's never left the lineup. He'll be there again Saturday when West Virginia plays in Manhattan.
All of which is a testament to the power of desire. And, of course, necessity."I'd like to think it's my work ethic,'' Finney said of how he was able to succeed. "But there was a deadline there, too. Make it or do something else.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.